Austria passes controversial reforms to 1912 Islam law

  • 25 February 2015
  • From the section Europe
Protesters hold banners during the demonstration under the slogan "New Islam Law? Not with us!" in front of the parliament building in Vienna, Austria, 24 February 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters held a demonstration against the new law outside the parliament building in Vienna on Tuesday

The Austrian parliament has passed controversial reforms to the country's century-old law on Islam.

The bill, which is partly aimed at tackling Islamist radicalism, gives Muslims more legal security but bans foreign funding for mosques and imams.

Austria's Integration Minister, Sebastian Kurz, defended the reforms but Muslim leaders say they fail to treat them equally.

The 1912 law made Islam an official religion in Austria.

It has been widely held up as a model for Europe in dealing with Islam.

Media captionAustrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz: "We don't want our Muslim community to be dependent on foreign funding"

The new measures, first proposed three years ago, include the protection of religious holidays and training for imams.

But Muslim groups say the ban on foreign funding is unfair as international support is still permitted for the Christian and Jewish faiths.

They say the legalisation reflects a widespread mistrust of Muslims and some are planning to contest it in the constitutional court.

Mr Kurz told the BBC the reforms were a "milestone" for Austria and aimed to stop certain Muslim countries using financial means to exert "political influence".

"What we want is to reduce the political influence and control from abroad and we want to give Islam the chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Islam law was introduced by Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph in 1912

Mr Kurz also stressed the bill was not a reaction to recent attacks by Islamic extremists in France and Denmark.

Meanwhile the legislation has drawn wide reaction from Muslims across the world, with Turkey's head of religious affairs, Mehmet Gormez, adding his condemnation on Tuesday.

"Austria will go back 100 years in freedom with its Islam bill," Mr Gormez said, according to Turkey's state-funded Anadolu news agency.

Roughly half a million Muslims live in Austria today, around 6% of the population. Many of them have Turkish or Bosnian roots.

The parliamentary vote in Austria came as the French government announced plans to improve dialogue with France's Muslim community.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government would increase consultations with Muslim leaders.

It would also double the number of university courses for imams - making them obligatory for Islamic chaplains in prisons and the armed forces - to ensure they are "faithful to the values of the Republic", he said.

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